Thursday, 7 November 2013

Best of BE Festival @ The Lowry, 06.11.13

If there was one thing you could recapture from childhood what would it be? I think I’d go for that feeling of play: chasing breathlessly after someone in tag, saying hello to a stranger without fear of embarrassment, experimenting with a world full of brand-new things. It is just this spirit that unified the three performances at The Best of BE Festival at The Lowry, resulting in a fascinating, thoughtful and fun evening of theatre.

The BE Festival (which stands for Birmingham European – when I first heard the title I thought it was a beekeepers convention) is an annual event that offers artists a chance to perform new half-hour works. The concept is that borders are there to be broken, be they between performer and audience, dance and theatre or the European nations themselves.

Opening group Betti Combo from France performed Al Cubo, a piece with a simple premise; the three performers had a dozen or so white plastic buckets, which they had to stack ceiling high. On the face of it that sounds quite boring – a sort of Poundland version of Brancusi’s endless column – but there was tension when the tower looked like toppling, awe at their ability to juggle buckets so artfully and laughter when it all went just a bit wrong (at one point this reviewer got hit in the head by a deflected paper pellet fired from a pea shooter).

A darker, more serious tone was struck by Tao Te (performed by Hungarian artists Ferenc), which began with two men sat on the floor furtively eating bread, accompanied by the sound of spitting rain and fire. Suddenly their bodies came under the control of the noise, being snapped back and forth by a mixture of musical and machine-like tones. Over the next thirty minutes they scratched, scrabbled and strode across the stage, fighting and feeling for one another as they danced, drawing you into a world of mimicry and disturbing dreams.

The death of a neighbour who, ‘lives so close, but we don’t know each other at all,’ triggers Danish performer Ivan Hansen (Out of Balanz) to journey back through his life in the closing act of the evening titled Next Door. Mortality , friendship, the grip of the past, the pull of the future, the endless questions that everyday life throws up; all of these and more are covered in Ivan’s wide-eyed narrative, with the charming dramatic accompaniment of Pekka Räikkönen, whose nose-picking and sword-wielding was a treat to watch.

Although disappointing for any actual apiculturists (there were no bees to be seen) the evening had great merit; new artists were introduced from different cultures and countries, using different styles and approaches, and the whole thing had a wonderful child-like enthusiasm that was very refreshing. If the rest of the BE festival is anywhere near this good it must be something special to see.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photos: Courtesy of BE Festival

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